Alan Webster, an institute instructor and teacher for the Temple Preparation Seminar in the Reading England Stake. Perhaps the problem lies in our tendency to think of prosperity only as it is represented by material wealth or lack of serious problems. The word prosperity itself comes from the Latin pro + spes, which means “hope.” Though the word soon came to mean “succeed” and is often used in the sense of material success, it does not necessarily mean an abundance of temporal possessions—or even a relatively comfortable, problem-free life.
If we remember the scriptures’ admonition that “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25), we can see that, for those who live the gospel, prosperity can mean joy, peace, harmony, unity, love, and sufficient faith and means to meet our needs without fear. Such prosperity comes because one possesses faith and peace of mind.
The scriptures record many promises of prosperity to those who are faithful to the Lord. For example, in 1 Nephi 2:20, [1 Ne. 2:20] we read the Lord’s promise to Nephi, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to … a land which is choice above all other lands.” In 2 Nephi 1:9, we read a similar promise to “those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem”—Lehi and his family. [2 Ne. 1:9]
Note, however, that these verses do not promise prosperity unconditionally to everyone. Indeed, not even all the members of Lehi’s group prospered. Among the group were Laman and Lemuel, both of whom murmured against the Lord, their father, and their brother Nephi. Laman and Lemuel eventually separated from Nephi, and those who followed them eventually became wicked and anything but prosperous.
The Nephites, on the other hand, did prosper in the land to which the Lord had led them when they kept the commandments. As a group, they were close to the Lord, and the Lord blessed them in their “land of promise.” This does not necessarily mean, however, that others who are righteous will always receive similar rewards.
Righteousness involves a cleansing of the spirit—a putting aside of worldly attitudes and values and a dedicating of one’s self to furthering the Lord’s work. If we are righteous, we will be able to put the world’s values and attitudes in proper context and follow the Spirit’s promptings in our everyday lives and endeavors.
Consequently, if our desires are righteous, our decisions will lead to success—though not necessarily in terms of worldly wealth or absence of problems. The Lord promises, “Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing—yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth and corruptibleness to the extent thereof.” (D&C 19:38.)
To the Saints of this dispensation, he promised, “If ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give.” (D&C 38:39.)
Let us note that, although the Lord can bestow on us “the riches of the earth,” the riches he most wants to bless us with are “the riches of eternity.” As he counsels elsewhere, “Seek not for riches, but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” (D&C 6:7.)
One of the problems with material wealth is that it sometimes corrupts those who have it. It is for this reason that the Lord’s promise of riches in section 38 cited above ends with the warning: “But beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.” (D&C 6:39.)
If we set our minds on the “treasures of earth” rather than on the things of eternity, we will lose our spirituality and begin to rely on our own wisdom. Indeed, it was the Nephites’ pride and lust for riches and their failure to dedicate their blessings to the Lord’s work that stirred Jacob to condemn them for failing to “think of [their] brethren like unto [them]selves” and for not being “familiar with all and free with [their] substance.” (Jacob 2:17.)
In saying that prosperity can be gauged in other than material ways, I do not imply that we must simply accept our circumstances in life as God-given and do nothing to change them. We should develop our talents and abilities and make the most of our situations. But we must not ascribe worldly success to righteousness, or lack of success to a lack of righteousness. It is true that the Lord does sometimes directly bless someone materially, but more often he expects us to learn particular principles—both temporal and spiritual—and apply them to our lives. In this way, we learn to handle difficulties and problems and to advance in knowledge and understanding.
The truly righteous are prosperous, in the sense that they have confidence, which triggers faith into activity and creates beneficial circumstances from less-favorable ones. They do not wait for the Lord to give or withhold rewards, but instead call on him for guidance about what will be most beneficial for them, both temporally and spiritually. Such guidance may lead to changing occupations, moving to another district, acquiring training or new skills, or accepting things as they are but working within one’s own limitations and following the Spirit’s direction in other ways.
Some problems may appear to be beyond our control, and our faith may be put to the test, but we need not find any situation hopeless. As the Lord tells us in Moroni 7:33, with faith and hope we can “have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient.” [Moro. 7:33] Just as the early Saints crossed the plains with little more than a driving faith that all would be well, we, too, need to forge ahead with faith. In doing so, we can support each other and learn to find joy, not in material possessions or comfortable situations, but in our relationship with the Lord, in service to others, and in developing our capacity to overcome obstacles with God’s help.